Gritty is the best word to describe the setting, the characters and the story in Out of the Furnace. Director Scott Cooper, who struck gold in 2009 with his rookie effort Crazy Heart, falls a bit short with OOTF. He has assembled a strong cast that works hard to tell a revenge story that’s, unfortunately, not unlike other revenge stories.
The Baze brothers, Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck) live in the rundown town of North Braddock, PA, just a few miles up the Monongahela from Pittsburgh. Russell goes to work at the town’s steel mill where his father worked. Rodney wants something different. He seeks it via gambling and bare knuckle fighting.
One night while driving after drinking a few beers, Russell hits another car, killing a kid. He goes to prison for a brief sentence. Rodney, meanwhile, goes to the Iraq war and returns with demons.
When Rodney runs up gambling debts to John (Willem Dafoe), he begs for a chance to earn money in a fight in a backwoods venue run by outlaw Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). Harlan is a meth dealer, a killer and an all-around bad egg. The film’s opening scene demonstrates his temper and abusive behavior.
The fight is vicious. Rodney takes the dive he promised, but, as he and John return to town, Harlan and his henchmen block their way and detain them. Russell then plots his course of revenge.
Local police chief Wesley Barnes (Forest Whittaker) warns Russell against chasing down the culprit on his home turf. When Russell goes after Harlan anyway, the rural cop (who’d been alerted by Barnes) sends him home. Ultimately the showdown occurs back in North Braddock after Russell lures Harlan to town.
Zoe Saldana appears as Russell’s girlfriend. Sam Sheppard has a small role as Russell’s uncle.
Cooper hits several sweet notes in the film, including an effective sequence that cuts back and forth between a deer hunt and a boxing match. And the acting talent he has assembled is impressive. But once the film’s story is established, its outcome is predictable.
Christian Bale again shows his range as an actor in this working class tale. His strong performance may be the best reason to see Out of the Furnace.